Framing the Dialogue

I Am From the Government and I Am Here to Help – Part 3

Part 3 – Efficiency (NOT)

I wrote a book review about one of the scariest books that I have ever read.  After more than three decades The Amityville Horror is still the scariest book that I have read.  I have recently been frightened by another playbook, the government playbook.

Our founding fathers had experience with big government and its effects on freedom.  They built many measures into the Constitution to limit the size of government.  They were particularly concerned about a large federal government.  I have recently worked for government for the past nine years and am amazed when people express a desire for government to “take over” something.

I was making a few copies at work today.  This is our third copier in the past few years and it by far the slowest machine on earth.  I think seventh century monks could reproduce a page faster.  That gave me the inspiration for this posting.  I would not fall for all of the “paperless” office advertising that you hear.  Government is bureaucracy and bureaucracy is paper.

By my count we have seven copy rooms in our building in addition to our main copier where you can get volume copies.  I sit near one of these rooms and the copier gets a lot of use.  Our copiers are leased and over the last few years as each lease expired; our copier was replaced with a slower model.  My guess is that each subsequent one has been cheaper than its predecessor.  That sounds like good government (another catch phrase of which to be leery).

There are, however, a few other considerations.  I estimate that this new copier is half as fast as the previous model; therefore I now spend twice as much time copying.  The money saved on the copier is being spent on my time.  There are a lot of folks making a much higher salary than mine using that machine.  Is that efficiency?

I also noticed today that we have seven boxes of toner sitting in the copy room.  The only problem is that they were for the previous copier.  At $16.95 each, they wasted nearly $120.00 to save money on the copier and that is just one of the seven copy areas.  Is that efficiency?

The funny thing is that the more I write about this, the more examples that I think of.  Since we are discussing printing devices, we also have a plotter that some of our technical people use to print maps.  I have an occasional need to plot something.  One time, I was trying unsuccessfully to plot a map.  After a while, I went to visit our IT guy for some help.

He told me that he was having trouble with the plotter and was trying to get it serviced.  My project could wait so I waited a few weeks and went to try again.  I should explain that the plotter is not in my office and this process can entail many trips between my PC and the plotter.  I still was not having any luck and again went to the IT guy.  It seems that the plotter had not been serviced.  When the technician came to look at the plotter, he said that he could not service it because the ink in the plotter had expired.  Who knew that ink expired?  When they went to get new ink, all of the expiration dates had passed.  The technician left. 

All that we had to do was order new ink.  This is where government happens.  Since we had ink in stock, we could not order new ink and we did not have an operating plotter in which to use up the old ink and we could not get new ink to get the plotter fixed to use up the old ink so that we could buy new ink to get the plotter fixed so that we could use up the old ink…..  Is that efficiency?

The postscript of the story is that one of our engineers went out and bought some new ink with his own money and the plotter was fixed.  We did use up the old ink.  It seems that unlike milk, ink can be used beyond its expiration date.

In government, at least at my level, getting equipment is difficult.  When I get a piece of equipment that helps me do my job, I take care of it.  I have even kept things at my house so they will not disappear from the office.  This example involves a piece of equipment that a colleague and I use that cost around $250.  One of the parts broke that rendered the unit unusable.  I went on the Internet and found the part for around $6.00. 

I completed a requisition form (more of that paper) only to be told that the vendor was not an “approved” vendor.  The unit was several years old and parts could only be purchased from the manufacturer.  Our purchasing department would not buy the part, but they did buy a new unit.  Government could not buy a $6.00 part, but could spend $200 on a new piece of equipment.  Is that efficiency?

The postscript of this story is that I purchased the part (I actually bought two so that we would have a spare) and we now have a unit that we can each use and get done twice as fast.

I could write about this forever.  My last examples will be about supplies.  Every organization wants to save

You too can own this narrow tape.  It's available from Amazon.

You too can own this narrow tape. It is available at

money on supplies, but in our case they go to far.  I will not blame our local folks; we buy supplies centrally and get what they give us.  I went to the supply cabinet recently to new roll of tape.  I grabbed a box and as I started to open it I noticed that it was about half as wide as my previous roll.

I took it back, searched around and found a wide roll.  I actually took an extra roll for the next time I need tape.  I also ran into a situation where I needed some masking tape.  I was given some generic brand that would only come off the roll in tiny pieces.  I wonder how many of those roll found there way into garbage cans?  Is that efficiency?

Many of these examples are humorous, but if you think about government running things, I hope that you remember this posting.  Think of this when you hear someone say that government should:

  • Take over healthcare
  • Take over the auto industry
  • Take over Social Security (too late they already screwed that up)
  • Take over the Energy Industry
  • Take over ____________________ (fill in the blank)

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